An investment of $229 million in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County got its first exposure to the community Thursday as officials with the State of Arkansas, the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County and Highland Pellets cut a red ribbon to officially dedicate the facility.

“We haven’t seen anything this size since International Paper and Tyson,” Lou Ann Nisbett, president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, said.

Spanning 150 acres, the plant, which is owned by an Arkansas-based company, will manufacture wood pellets for the European market.

When it was first announced in August 2014, the plant was expected to create 35 direct jobs. But since then, the facility has expanded their plans and will now create 68 direct jobs, as well as close to 1,000 indirect jobs, which will include harvesting timber and transporting it to the plant.

The facility is located in the Jefferson Industrial Park adjacent to Tyson Foods.

“We’ve come a long way since we first broke ground, and we’ve still got a long way to go,” Plant Manager Jody Doak said.

He said there are four production lines in various stages of construction, and the goal is to start producing pellets by the end of the year. Company officials say that when fully operational, Highland Pellets is expected to produce over 600,000 metric tons of pellets annually.

“This plant began with a simple economic goal but has evolved into producing sustainable fuel by producing sustainable outcomes for our employees, our community and our environment,” Tom Reilley, chairman and co-founder of Highland Pellets, said.

“Our goal is to show our fellow citizens that respecting people is good business. Creating a stable platform around not just financial capital but social capital like trusted relationships, shared values of compassion, community outreach, education and economic development yields demonstrable returns. Together we are building a strong culture here at Highland, and I am confident that our workforce will be the safest, most motivated and most productive in the area because we will invest in their future.”

Also on hand was Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who said, “Highland Pellets’ leadership is passionate about this new facility and the impact it will have on Jefferson County’s economy.

“They are determined to have a lasting effect not only on their employees but also the entire community. This is a great example of a company and a community working together to create new opportunities and an improved quality of life for citizens. Thanks to Highland Pellets for making this significant investment of time, resources and capital in Arkansas.”

The direct financial impact on the Pine Bluff area is expected to be more than $86 million annually.

When the plant was first announced in August 2014, Nisbett said the alliance had been contacted in May of the previous year by an out-of-state businessman who was familiar with the area; a few weeks later, two people associated with the project were shown several buildings, as well as a lot owned by the Alliance that is located in the industrial park.

The Economic Development Corp. of Jefferson County, the group that administers the three-eights cent sales tax for economic development, approved an initial $495,000 incentive package for the company. The money was used to build a road into the property, and later a $137,500 incentive was used to expand Industrial Drive by adding a turn lane so that trucks going to Highland Pellets, as well as Tyson Foods, would have easier access.